Thursday, March 06, 2014

Getting things done.

Yesterday afternoon, I listed everything that's left to do for the party, up to the point on my Big Day list where we get 16 bags of ice from the store.

The whole list came to less than half a sheet of notebook paper. Pretty cool!

Because we're doing our own cooking instead of having the party catered, I plan to finish all non-party tasks by Wednesday before the party. That way, I have three days devoted to just one thing--prepping food--and the rest of my life does not have to fall apart as I prepare.

Let me stress again that I could not do this without a system. Systems are miraculous.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

St. Urho's Day party planning: Using momentum.

We hosted the Mardi Gras party on February 22, 3 weeks before our St. Urho's Day party. The Mardi Gras party was a huge success; we broke the 50-attendee mark for the first time, which was gratifying, yet which also brought its own problems.

We ran out of food and Abita beer halfway through the party. I am mortified at this, but it's what happened. We had staged for our usual attendees numbering 35-40, but we had more show up, and they ate and drank much more than usual. We also had no reserves to back up our offerings. Next time, we'll stage for a larger group of 70-75. That will give enough for 50 attendees plus overage if more come.

We're bringing new ideas to the party next year, too, like making bread pudding instead of pralines. This is for practical reasons as much as it is for aesthetic variety. We can make a pan of bread pudding that will serve 25-30 in itself (we'll make two). That takes less time and effort than pralines, which are a delight but which take a deft hand and a lot of kitchen space.

This party prep bridges into the St. Urho's Day prep, which is helpful. Scheduling multiple parties and events in a tight time frame causes less stress, not more.

St. Urho's Day party prep involves...

--taking down the Mardi Gras decorations
--keeping the purple and green party items out
--using whatever leftover beer and wine are available
--then the same scheduling and planning strategies as for other events.

More to come on these strategies.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mardi Gras party planning.

We're hosting a Mardi Gras party on February 22 this year, so it's time to get started on the planning. Here's what I've got on my general party planning list:

Six weeks ahead: Send evites to guests (check calendar); finalize menu

Five weeks ahead: Buy candles; order specialty items--food, music, decorations

Four weeks ahead: Check paper and plastic ware, restock; check bar inventory and pick up items

The invitations have already gone out, in a sense. This party is primarily for members of Metropolitan Washington Mensa, but I'm going to send specific invitations by email to my various gaming groups, the MWM GenXer list, and my DCist blogging buddies. Those I'll send out before the end of the week.

I reviewed the 2013 post mortem in my party planning notebook and made notes about what to order. I then placed an order with Mardi Gras Outlet, which is where I buy most of my Mardi Gras-specific items. This year, I picked up eight 8-packs of 7" plates, several types and lengths of decorative lights, and three tablecloths, one rectangular metallic gold, one round metallic gold, and one round green. The rectangular tablecloth will go on the main food table in the dining room; the other two tablecloths will go on round tables in the dining room and, hopefully, on the deck, where I'll have our tubs of drinks, ice, and wine.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed about the weather this year. It's much easier if we can put drinks on the second-story deck, just outside the living room, because we have more floor space that way. If we can't, though, I have an alternative plan that turns the living room and part of the dining room into one massive bar.

I also did a menu, subject to change:

Zatarain's red beans and rice, 3 boxes
Zatarain's jambalaya, 3 boxes
Hot crawfish dip (triple recipe in the crock pot) with sliced French bread
Boudin balls (I'm making my own boudin this year to save money)
Assorted dips and vegetables
Zapp's potato chips, variety
King cake (my husband makes these each year for both our Mardi Gras party and our St Urho's Day party)
Pralines (my husband also makes these)
Hurricanes (I make pitchers of these and let people add rum)
Abita beer
Wine and sodas

Next up: Review additional post mortems from past years for more suggestions.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I have seen the Milky Way from Mars.

Panoramic image from the surface of Mars at night time. Scroll up to see the Milky Way as you've never seen it before:

Mars Panorama - Curiosity rover: Martian night in The World

Friday, January 04, 2013

MAGFest, day two.

MAGFest, day two.

NB: For the MAGFest program, go to and look for the Guidebook link. Download the app, then download the MAGFest 11 guidebook.

I made three of the four sessions I planned. Work, the kind I get paid for, knocked out the morning. Speaker sessions at MAGFest are almost always good and frequently are great.

Session one: Video Game Genres

This was one of the better MAGFest sessions I've attended. Genre is a slippery subject, and the conversation among the six panelists was intense, fast, and focused. Rather than trying to define 'genre', which is a tricky proposition, the panelists tried to delineate some of the issues around genre (who deines it? who does the game box labeling? can genres change?) and look at the occasionally special case of video game genres, which overlap with both fiction and film yet which have special subgenres of its own as shaped by interactivity. The panelists wisely avoided throwing up their hands and dismissing the notion of genre altogether on the basis of personal subjectivity. The discussion touched on a number of video game genres; genre versus mechanics; how mechanics inform genre; sloppy application of genre labels by game companies; genre labels as a "me-too" marketing ploy; and numerous related issues.
One hour? Not nearly enough for this topic.
Session two:  Video Games and Player Agency

This was a one-man presentation.

The odd thing about MAGFest is that, because of the intensity of the fan community, panelists' names aren't listed in the program--they don't always have to be.

Although not as intense and wide ranging as the genre panel, the discussion was likely informative for those players who hadn't considered the notion of agency. The speaker introduced a few basic defintions and principles--agency as the ability to do things as a character within a given game environment, for instance, and then what is essentially the notion of fair play versus suddenly (and overly) directive game story events, eg, suddenly being sent to prison under circumstances from which the character could have otherwise escaped, but from which the game permits no egress. The audience largely focused on agency through game mechanics, so the discussion tended to be about players' complaints re: specific games. For instance, one gamer bitterly recounted how Fallout 3 left him with a world full of nothing but children because he'd killed all the other NPCs, and the game wouldn't let him kill children (he muttered the phrase "social morality" a couple of times). Generally, though, the panel was interesting.

It's a shame that there are no follow-up panels; this one plus the genre panel could have been highly illuminating.

Video Games and Psychometric Methods

This panel was WAY above the audience's heads. Too bad, again because there are no follow-up panels or discussion to provide combinatorial juiciness.

The panelists did not delve very far into their respective methodologies--a wise choice--and instead reviewed in broad terms their areas of interest and their current projects. One panelist was a video game programmer; the rest were in psychology, so much of the disucssion was devoted to general psychometric methods and data gathering processes. The audience focused on reviews, for the most part, and their subjective nature (despite having pointed out to them the notion that ALL reviews are subjective).

One self-identified "reviewer" asked how to be less subjective.

For cryin' out loud.

I considered standing up to point out that the reviewer's freshman English professor should have taught him this during his first semester of college. I didn't. Just barely.

In broad terms, this panel was worth attending. The lay audience meant they weren't going to to far into their disciplines, which was unfortunate, but they did an excellent job of making their research accessible to the MAGFest audience. That's more difficult than it seems.

Two more days of MAGFest, then a wrap-up.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

MAGFEST, day one.


Yes, MAGFEST. Also known as Music and Gaming Festival 2013, also known as the BIGGEST BADASS GEEK PARTY EVAR.

We're at the Gaylord National, which is at National Harbor, across the Anacostia River from Alexandria, VA. Gorgeous hotel, top-notch service, amazing conference facilities.

Did I mention that last year, there were 6,100 attendees at MAGFEST? Yeah. Not a lot by other industry standards, but it's up there in geekdom.

Right now, I'm in a session called "Publishing for the Specialty Market." Good session so far; the presenter is well informed about how the publishing industry works for niches. Cool, eh? You know it is.

You're going to get posts for days from me. Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Holidays and the Diplomat's Dinner Table

Do we even celebrate holidays any more in America?

We do stuff, yes:
 We spend money.
 We drink.
 We complain to friends.
 We travel, or we host others.
 We dread the tension and conflict.
 We worry.

Where is the celebration in all this? 

Holiday commercials are supposed to represent the middle ground where conflicts and tensions have been resolved and where relationships have been negotiated. These commercials may be the most aspirational of all, even more so than those of luxury brands, because there's a stronger emotional hook for a wider audience. People in the commercials are attractive, presentable, sometimes even clubbable. We gaze on our own families and despair.

The dinner table at the center of many family celebrations is a treacherous place, but the messages we get during the holidays ignore that.

The dinner table on TV is that of the diplomat, the professional trained to navigate through nuance, subterfuge, and concealment.

Is diplomacy possible any more for those who do not live and work as diplomats?

People bemoan the general loss of cordiality, yet we don't discuss the hard work of self-restraint required for tactful, considered communication. The middle ground of forbearance and circumspection begins to look like Iwo Jima.

My motto this year comes from the film Wargames:

"The only winning move is not to play."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Age and Treachery


At the core of the conflict within Skyfall is age versus youth, treachery versus skill. Silva's near-Oedipal obsession with M pits his (relative) youth and skill against her cunning and experience. Bond's first encounter with the new Q goes less dramatically but highlights the same issues. Q brags that he could do more damage with his laptop while wearing his pajamas than Bond could do in a year of field work. Bond ultimately reminds Q that judgment--a singularly human capability--is the most important element.

Skyfall is not a reboot of the franchise as much as it is a return to its core values. We are left with Eve Moneypenny, the bloom of youth whose inexperience in the field nearly killed Bond; Q, the consummately skilled technician whose poor judgment permits Silva to access MI6's computer network; Malory, the new M, who though younger than 's M has seen his share of treachery at the hands of the Irish Republican Army; and Bond himself, the figure at the crossroads whose youthful skills have now become experienced judgment in the exercise of treachery--all in the service of Her Majesty, of course.

Skyfall permits Bond to mature, and in so doing, it extends the franchise even farther away from its supervillain, planet-destroying past. The supervillain of today is the lone wolf, the small group, the sleeper cell. I, for one, bid the Moonrakers of the past goodbye as I greet this Bond with warmth and regard. 

Here's to age and treachery. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

True Masks


A quick list of a few dichotomies in Skyfall...

Trust, suspicion
Revelation, concealment
Presence, absence
Clarity, obscurity
Culpability, innocence
Inner, outer
Truth, deceit

So we can order them thus:

Revelation          Concealment
-truth                   -deceit
-presence            -absence
-clarity                 -obscurity
-inner                   -outer
-innocence           -culpability
-trust                   -suspicion
-loyalty                -betrayal

Skyfall reverses these easy dichotomies through the trope of the shadow. For instance: Bond shadows an opponent, staying within the shadows himself in order to gain clarity, to see information revealed. Bond uses the shadows to project his own absence; it is in this projection of absence that his own presence becomes most valuable. 

Or another one: Bond, M, and MI6 are culpable because of the nature of their operations; what they do is illegal in most locales, though sanctioned by their own government. Their culpability helps preserve the innocence--whether authentic or not is another matter--of the populace.

The game of fidelity and betrayal is a complex one. Without the shadows, the supposedly positive characteristics, if practiced by Skyfall's characters, would lead to the deaths of many--as the deaths of the first three agents revealed by Silva bear witness. The ecosystem of betrayal--the supposedly negative characteristics--depends on the ecosystem of loyalty. 

Trust is the currency of those in the shadows. Without trust, cover stories cannot hold, false identities cannot be offered, and deceits cannot be perpetuated. This trust is the superficial trust of the average man on the street--the one who believes someone is a janitor because he's pushing a broom and wearing a uniform. It is the trust we depend on daily, yet it is the least secure trust of all.

Espionage fiction has always mined these dichotomies. Skyfall's effectiveness--indeed, that of all of Daniel Craig's Bond films--lies in the scripts' fidelity to a set of practices based on deception.

Well done, Commander Bond.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Calculus of Severine

#skyfall #spoilers #007

So I've watched Skyfall twice now, trying to get a handle on how best to write about it. 

It is rich, it is lush, it is too much for one post.

Some ideas:

There are no opposites.
Everything is in shadow.
Damage comes from revelation, not concealment.
A transition is simply the moment when the transitioning elements cohere.
Life is betrayal.
Happiness is an illusion.
The comfort of modernity, of civilization, is predicated on a lie.

What is the ecosystem of betrayal?

One wonders if, after the helicopters pick up Silva on the island of Hashima, Bond didn't take one more taste of the 50-year-old Macallan. One wonders if Bond is deliberately shaking when he points the gun at Severine.

What are we at the core?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Remember, remember...the sixth of November

Politics and nursery rhymes. What to make of them? What to make of the Guy Fawkes rhyme on this #Election2012 day?

This week...just the Monday and Tuesday of it have been the observant dilettante's dream. Guy Fawkes Day brought about the defacement of a few websites, but idle Twitter threats by various #anonymous account holders did not materialise. I shared drinks with a few friends at The Queen Vic on H Street NE in DC last night while the +New Orleans Saints  made chutney out of the +Philadelphia Eagles. No masked crusaders burst in with ideas that would bring us back to our senses.

Today...well, if you don't know what America's been doing today, then please move on to another Plusser's post.

I have been struck by the rhyme scheme and internal pattern of repetition in the Guy Fawkes rhyme:

Remember, remember (A)
The fifth of November (A)
The gunpowder treason and plot (B)
I know no reason (C)
Why gunpowder treason (C)
Should ever be forgot (B)

The internal rhyme of 'treason-reason-treason', along with the repetition of the word 'treason', were aptly expanded in Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. 

But what is it we're not to forget?

Can we remember something if we've not done it?

How much political action is mere spectacle?
How do we define participatory politics?

How much social media is bread and circuses?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

You Are Here

You are here, shaking things up in the countries of your social media world. Just when you think you are done, there are new media topics that need more coverage.

This is your downtime. This is what you do to recharge.

This is your guilty pleasure.


Tip o' the hat to  and his list of 100 blog post topics.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Doorways: Content, Reading, Writing


Google's much-described Panda algorithm change last year and a recently confirmed update to it brought about a sea change among social media commenters. Panda's emphasis on content rather than on links gutted earlier SEO practices, yes, but the consequences of the change are still rippling through social media. People are required to develop and publish real, usable, interesting content.

This stuff is hard, isn't it? ;-)

You have to read.
You have to write.
You have to think.

If you want really good content, then you have to do it all over again.

Curation now begins at the pre-writing stage. Good ideas come from exposure to others' good ideas, so you have to pick your authors carefully. Bad ideas, bad authors are a waste of time.

You're running out of time.

Good writing comes from tracking your ideas as they occur to you as you read. Your brain isn't big enough to hold all your great ideas, so you have to find your tracking system. Losing your ideas is losing a piece of your future.

You're running out of time.

Good thinking--the kind of thinking that you, you, need to do in order to do good work--means doing pushups, pullups, situps. Your brain hurts. You're convinced you're insane because no one else has gone down the road you're on. You're never sure if you're right because what you're doing is so new.

What are you doing with your time?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Arise, Arise

Two prefaces: One, I am not here to discuss the political aspects of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Two, I'm quoting song lyrics in German below with translations after; the source material is at The German is not difficult; I recommend backreading it through the translations as much as possible.

Auch auf den Wellen wird gefochten
Wo Fisch und Fleisch zur See geflochten
Der eine sticht die Lanz' im Heer
Der andere wirft sie in das Meer


Even on the waves there is fighting
Where fish and flesh are woven into sea
One stabs the lance while in the army
Another throws it into the ocean

I listen to this song, "Reise, Reise" by , whenever I am at the highest geographic point I can reach in a new vacation spot. I've listened to it all over the world and at various altitudes. My first time was on board a cruise ship in the Antarctic; it was then, as I stood in a t-shirt and track pants on the stern of the ship, just outside the gym and in the glorious Antarctic summer, that I felt the message in the song.

"Reise, Reise" is a musing on life and death, the human aspects of it explored through images of fishermen and soldiers. The spear is the hinge between the two: Both use spears, both kill, with the debate being over which one is in the service of life. 

My most recent time to listen to "Reise, Reise" was on a mountain overlook in Croatia, gazing down on towns with both life and rubble as reminders of the war.

Die Lanze muss im Fleisch ertrinken
Fisch und Mann zur Tiefe sinken
Wo die schwarze Seele wohnt
ist kein Licht am Horizont

The lance must be drowned in flesh
Fish and man sink to the depths
Where the black soul dwells
there is no light on the horizon

We'd stopped at the overlook during the first leg of a jeep safari. Thirteen other Mensans plus our two tour guides, in four Toyota Hiluxes (which are, incidentally, the finest machines made--just ask ), had driven up the zigzagging road to the top, making the 190-degree and more cutbacks with relative ease. The view from the top looked over the towns below and out into the Adriatic lapping serently at Croatia's rocky edge.

The towns we'd passed through, and the others we'd see after driving down the mountain, then across a flat vineyard plain, and up another mountain to an olive oil mill, were tiny communities abutting each other. Many houses were partly inhabited, unfinished floors with no interior partitions or windows gaping open above, and below, a painted, stuccoed story that was well kept.

Muslim here, Catholic there, Orthodox there. This was how it was. Over them all, Tito and Yugoslavia.
Reise, Reise Seemann Reise
Jeder tut's auf seine Weise
Der eine stößt den Speer zum Mann
Der andere zum Fische dann

Reise, Reise Seemann Reise
Und die Wellen weinen leise
In ihrem Blute steckt ein Speer
Bluten leise in das Meer

Arise, arise seaman arise 
Each does it in his own way
One thrusts the spear into a man
Another then into the fish

Arise, arise seaman arise 
And the waves cry softly
In their blood a spear is lodged
They bleed softly into the ocean

After we toured a small church in Čilipi, where Serbian and Montenegrin forces had beheaded figures of Jesus and Joseph and cut out Mary's eyes, our tour guide told us of the Serbian desire to bring about a third Yugoslavia, which was motivation on all sides for the war. Townspeople are still struggling with the emotional effect 17 years later.
I bought an embroidery sampler from a woman at the church, the pattern traditional to Croatia. Others put coins in the donation box.

I am not religious in any way, yet sometimes I call on the services of St. Anthony of Padua when I've lost something. Coincidentally, this church of St. Nicholas, who is the patron saint of, among other things, sailors, has had its restoration partially supported by the Fraternity of St. Anthony, who is the patron saint of that which is lost. "Reise, Reise" is about loss, yes, but also about timelessness and absorption. We are absorbed into a timeless, vast space, one that is not alien to us. The future that lies within that timelessness is the same present within which we act today.

Reise, Reise Seemann Reise
Und die Wellen weinen leise
In ihrem Herzen steckt ein Speer
Bluten sich am Ufer leer

Arise, arise seaman arise 
And the waves cry softly
In their heart a spear is lodged
They bleed themselves dry on the shore

What we lose is hope, peace, happiness. 

Death is not the tragedy here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Remixing Halloween

Halloween costumes used to be generic: Hoboes, princesses, witches, clowns. But popular culture now has us remixing so that our costumes are referential. If you're a zombie, you're not referencing generic zombies or even voodoo--you're referencing The Walking Dead, Shaun of the Dead, or if you're a black-and-white zombie, Night of the Living Dead. You can't be a vampire without Twilight/True Blood/other references. Being generic is being out of touch.

So how has this remixing of the masked self affected perceptions of the  participants?

Traditionally, the masked self permits us to act as both our not-selves and ourselves. The mask is a lie: It claims we are not ourselves by presenting a false visage, even as the false visage permits us to misbehave and blame the self of the mask. The mask is a lie concealing yet another deception.

The self of the mask is a truth presented as a lie. The self behind the mask is a lie presented as the truth.

This is why the preferred mask of Anonymous is no longer valid: Guy Fawkes is meant to represent resistance and revolution, which is the lie. The self behind the Fawkes mask is a not-self, a lie enabled by a mask. The mask makes authenticity impossible.

In all this layering, where is Anonymous?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Anonymous, Halloween, and Remix Culture

Today is the first anniversary of #OccupyDC, a movement that brought less attention to itself than #OWS did by a long stretch, but which perhaps may end up being more persistent.

But why would OccupyDC be more persistent? Weren't the OWS protesters speaking truth to power, and doing so more directly?


The real power is in Washington, not New York.

Like many others, I have mixed feelings about the direction the Anonymous movement has taken. The world where the mask originated--England of 1605--no longer exists, and the ideas powering Alan Moore and David Lloyd's graphic novel V for Vendetta are radically different than those powering the Anonymous movements. 

I approve of protest over ideas; I disapprove of ill-informed, misdirected loathing.

Real, powerful cultural remixes come from a different source. I understand that the Occupy protesters learned their tactics from their aging hippie parents. I understand that their passion led them to believe in a kind of ideological purity.

Remixes are by definition impure.

More on this tomorrow.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are You an Old Testament, or a New Testament?

I assure you, I am still sane. The backstory to the question:

Years ago, I had a friend, Rayna, who once remarked that a mutual friend was handling an argument in an “Old Testament” fashion. I wasn’t raised in a religious family, so it’s not familiar to me to characterize the world in religious terms. However, the bicameral Bible—the two gods in one text—was culturally common, so Rayna’s metaphor struck me as useful.

Looking at Western situations through these responses—are they OT, or NT?—has given me a way to look at motivations and positions in a more culturally holistic way.

This division of approaches explains much about American character and decision making. It’s how we can wage war on a country, then rebuild it, and do both without feeling ashamed. It’s why we find ourselves divided over things like immigration: OT says battle to strengthen the borders, NT says to accept all in the universal brotherhood of man.

It’s also why we can be deeply divided in our responses to OT cultures elsewhere, specifically Islam. The OT types in American culture seek to gird the country in case of attack, not because they don’t understand Islam, but because they do. The traditions come from the same core text, so the mutual understanding and thus conflict is inevitable.

The NT as a revisionist text is out of place in the conflict between OT types. The message of peace and inclusion comes with conditions—acceptance of Jesus’ divinity—that are intolerable. (Some of us who aren’t religious also find it intolerable.) However, that very notion of inclusion made later developments like democracy possible (cf Max Weber et al). Democracy, capitalism, and personal rights developed mutually. It’s no mistake that once capitalism moves into a culture, that culture suffers—not because it is being harmed, but because it is being opened.

I would argue that, as difficult and treacherous as war is, it is still necessary so long as the OT types are around. The nature of the OTs makes it possible for the NTs not to be overrun. The NTs ensure that the OTs help rebuild what they destroy. The peculiar bicameral mindset of the West gets blamed for this social ill or that complicating factor, but like conjoined twins, each depends on the other.

Many argue against religion as a necessary part of civilization, but I disagree. All the pillars of civilization work together to keep us from running through the streets killing each other, and even at that, the job’s not done. Removing one of those pillars will harm civilization, not help it.

OT? NT? Both are crucial for the longevity of Western civilization and values.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If you laugh at cartoons of Mohammed, you must be a scientist.

A few years ago, I blogged on parody and scientific inquiry. Short version: I argue that the cultural conditions that lead to scientific thought and inquiry are the same conditions that make possible the existence of parody. Parody and scientific inquiry are similar in some ways, and both depend on an idea of truth that is independent of constraint.

Yesterday's thoughts on IQ testing fall in with these ideas. The intellectual aptitude of humans depends heavily on both environment and cultural expectations. The intellectual aptitude of humans depends heavily on both environmental and cultural practices. Flynn, in his  article, also discusses the Raven's IQ test, which not coincidentally is used by Mensa worldwide because it is culture free. In other words, it's not culture itself that shapes IQ; IQ responds to cultural conditions.

What chance do people have when their cultural conditions are prescientific?  

The lesson is clear: Those culture that do not assimilate into modernity--not Western values, but modern values--will be internally unstable, a threat to their neighbors, and doomed to failure.

Without radical changes, these prescientific states will become feral states.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are We Really Getting Smarter?

Thought-provoking article by James Flynn--yes, that one--in the 

"Modern people do so well on these tests because we are new and peculiar. We are the first of our species to live in a world dominated by categories, hypotheticals, nonverbal symbols and visual images that paint alternative realities. We have evolved to deal with a world that would have been alien to previous generations."
I have long wrestled with the idea of arrested development in cultural terms. To claim that a given culture is stuck in its past is at odds with American notions of free will, identity, and progress. Yet the evidence is there, as noted by a friend who spent years as a government spook in Pakistan. He maintains that once one leaves the relatively modern areas of Lahore and Islamabad, the level of advancement drops several hundred years, if not a full millennium. 

It's rude to talk about such things in America. To be a good liberal, one must pretend that we all hold paramount white, middle-class values. (Note that this is not the same as wanting to be white and middle class.) This point of view insists that people are good, nonviolent, and respectful. There's no evidence for this pretense, but people cling to it.

So what does this have to do with IQ?

Flynn is spot on about the increasing abstract capabilities of those who do well--even modestly well--on IQ tests. These groups are largely in the West. This capability is a huge advantage, if in no other areas than in strategy and tactics. People who are, in Flynn's own term, "prescientific" are not cognitively capable of overcoming those who have the abstraction advantage.

Cultures that are resolutely prescientific are clinging to a failed present and are determined to meet an already failed future.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Art of Video Games: Countdown to closing.

You've got seven days, counting today, to see the Master Nerd exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. After that, you'll have to see if the aging turds on your local art museum board of directors have agreed to host this exhibit.

Just buy the damn plane ticket. Then read below to discover what the exhibition was like from one of its key developers.




"This was a triumph. I'm making a note here..." -GLaDOS

After more than six months on view, The Art of Video Games exhibition will be closing at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on September 30, 2012. It's been a chaotic and exhilarating few months for those of us who have been actively involved in the exhibition, with countless programs and tours as well as the challenge of keeping all the technology functional. I will be happy to get my evenings and weekends back, but I will be sad to see the exhibition leave the galleries. The curator, Chris Melissinos, and I have lived and breathed this exhibition for more than three years. We both spend as much time as our jobs allow in the exhibition space, watching visitors interact and have fun with the content. It will be strange to walk around the third floor and not hear echoes of chip music spilling into the contemporary art galleries. So, to mark its closing, I thought I would reflect upon some of my personal highlights.

Interviewing Robin Hunicke
One of my first "wow" moments was conducting the interviews with video game designers and artists. We did all of these during the 2011 GDC and E3 events (At GDC, we managed to film 24 interviews in just 27 hours!), and they were truly inspirational. We chatted with luminaries such as Nolan Bushnell and Don Daglow as well as contemporary designers including Kellee Santiago and David Cage. It was clear from all of these interviews just how much the exhibition meant to people who had dedicated their lives to this medium, and Chris and I both felt very proud to be involved in its creation.
Working with the design team at the museum was incredible. This was my first foray into exhibition development, so I had never before worked closely with our in-house experts, David Gleeson and Michael Mansfield. If I worked hard - these guys were unstoppable - and I think you'll agree that the exhibition looks amazing. This would be a good moment to give a shout out to our lighting designer, Scott Rosenfeld, too, whose innovative work gave the exhibition galleries their unique atmosphere.

Another unforgettable moment was meeting Hideo Kojima. Just a few weeks out from the opening of the exhibition, Konami got in touch and asked if we would be interested in having him speak at the museum. Um, YES! We added the program last minute to the opening weekend festivities. When he arrived March 17, 2012, he was wonderfully gracious and friendly - he signed autographs for every person who came to the talk (including for me!), and even spent some time on the front steps of the museum hanging out with Pac-Man. If you missed his talk, you can still watch the archived webcast.
I have so many wonderful memories of working on this exhibition that I could keep talking for days, but for the purposes of this email - my last mention will be of Spontaneous Art. These crazy guys worked with us to create live action video games in the museum's courtyard for GameFest in March and GameFest 2.0 in September. In both games, visitors battled, chased, and dodged alien-like robots (or robot-like aliens?) to complete a series of levels. In the 2.0 edition, the game included an awesome monster boss, whom you had to battle to win the game. Spontaneous Art helped create a truly memorable experience for the thousands of visitors who came to each event and added just the right amount of insanity to the celebrations.

While this is the end of The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, it is certainly not the end of the exhibition overall since it will travel to ten U.S. cities over the next 3+ years. You can see the full list on our website, and I will be sending periodic updates by email as it opens at new venues. If you want to receive emails about other activities at the museum, update your preferences to make sure you're getting what you want. If you just stay on the video games list, we won't fill your mailbox with non-game-related things, we promise :) 
Thank you for all of your support! 
-- Georgina 
Exhibition Coordinator, The Art of Video Games

Friday, September 21, 2012

Epigenetics, DNA "Dark Matter," Free Will

Interesting news this week on the activity in the "dark matter" of human DNA

Unlike the boxes of items you've got packed away in that expensive storage unit, the "junk" in our DNA isn't so junky after all. In fact, it looks like it's key to our epigenetic systems and activities.

We've known about epigenetics, or the biological and environmental activation of gene expression, for a few years now. Linking the idea of epigenetics to its actual place in our DNA is a huge step.

When we start talking about brain activity, though, things get philosophically and ethically complicated. Check out the story of James Fallon, who has both the genetics and the brain structure of a psychopath, but who is as normal and productive as they come.

What is society's responsibility toward the individual and the group as we learn more about our brains? Our current model of criminal justice lags behind the criminal act. Essentially, we have structured society in a way that permits criminal activity to happen. But what will our responsibilities be as these discoveries reveal more, as no doubt they will?

How will we reckon with the question of free will?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Divide of the Considered Response

Is there a better way to think about social divides?

Blame my humanities background, but I was struck today by two articles, one by Felix Salmon on 
 titled "Teaching Journalists toReadand one by  titled "How to Be a GoodCommenter."

The articles got me wondering if the REAL divide is not digital, or class-based, or any of the usual suspects, but is instead the divide of the considered response. We might be engaged in some way with the revolutionaries in the streets--or, as is the case with many of the 
 crew, on our glowing screens--but we know that they won't make for good governance.

Instead, perhaps we should shift our attention toward those who are capable of offering a considered response...


Boring only if you're on the wrong side of that divide.

More than just a call for an intellectual class, which we already have globally, this shift would address issues current to many of us: curation of ideas, devotion of time, consideration of what's important. Trust. Validation. The proper use of our time and energy.

Scalzi and Salmon's ideas were once taught in schools--I learned them, and I taught them to my university students--but as part of the day's malaise, we seem to have stopped that and so are denying them to others. Thus, the divide: those who learn how to construct a considered response will have the advantage over those who are capable of articulation only through chaos and reaction.

For my part, I plan to do two things: follow Scalzi's 10 points in areas beyond commenting, and be that critical reader of which Salmon reminds us. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Zombies, Contagion, and Civilization

So what's up with zombies? WTH have they been popular?

Being eaten alive is not the problem. Contagion is the problem.

Zombie narratives are about contagion and collapse. The life cycle of the uninfected human has two future patterns: Ongoing uninfection, or infection, death, and reanimation.

Uninfected humans are faced with impossible moral choices. Infected humans are faced with one impossible moral choice--suicide or no--and one impossible future.

Killing zombies is the easy part

The uninfected first must decide whether they're going to preserve, and perhaps rebuild, civilization. The uninfected bring with them their personal and cultural values, and each encounter is the opportunity to apply those values.

Yes, values can be applied through weaponry.

The question for the uninfected, then, is, "What values will we preserve?" This is a critical philosophical issue. Zombie narratives are not about zombies. They're about philosophical and cultural contagion.

The physical contagion vector is, on the one hand, the infected regardless of stage. The just-bitten may be treated charitably at first, but the life cycle is set. On the other hand, the cultural and philosophical contagion vector must be reckoned with every moment. Given a collapsed civilization, what do we discard, knowing that discarding values means discarding the people who carry them?

Put on your philosopher's cap. Then lock and load.